Review of nOise anusmOs by Joseph Nechvatal

by Yuting Zou

blackeye. 2010.  20 x 20 inches, 50 x 50 cm computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas and screen with digital animation screen

April 12 – May 26, 2012
Galerie Richard, New York

“The task of perception entails pulverizing the world, but also one of spiritualizing its dust.” – G. Deleuze [1]

Black is the “color” of undivided nothingness and simplicity that has yet been penetrated by light. Black is immanent to itself. Entering the Galerie Richard, black was arguably my instant impression of Joseph Nechvatal’s nOise anusmOs installation, for most of this new series of paintings are unified by a black background. Against the black backdrop are complicated webs of alternating red and white, they suggest many ambiguous and provocative images of corporeal surfaces.

Here, sfumato plays a role in slightly reducing the contrast of colors by adding a smoky and subtle layer to the otherwise pixelated images.  The entire room is filled with immersive noise, from the visual noise (digital virus) inside the pictorial frame to its audial extension into the ambient space through the “viral symphony.” Bathed in a continuity of noise, it appeared to me that the overall composition of this body of work was more sparse and plural than before, and more speculative.  

On the black canvases, the potencies of color start to unfold. Each painting is an autonomy of the inside, and it records the life of the tiny automata – artificial viruses. Those automata are equipped with sensory systems that allow them to perceive their local environment, detect enemies, and react accordingly. While, in most of the artist’s previous works, the macroscopic corporeality is decomposed by the microscopic into visible or invisible traces, the majority of this new series reverse the scheme, as the microscopic is used to generate the macroscopic, the cosmological.

The artificial viruses are creative agents that resemble Leibnizian monads – simple substances that are living mirrors of the entire universe, projections of a phantasmagorical phenomenon, and each an indivisible autonomous enclosure of infinite minute perceptions. A cluster of viruses start from an indiscernibly close vicinity, with almost indistinguishable perceptions, then form infinitesimal differential relations, and unfold the color pixels underneath their paths.

As time goes by, the integration of minuscule differentials gives a clear perception of chiaroscuro of varied degrees. By that increasingly sharp chiaroscuro, the two-fold image is made visible: the human anus (or retina) and the black hole (or wormhole). As such, through viruses’ own mild (confused) perceptions, their vibrating trajectories become a filter for a distinct perception towards a threshold of consciousness. This process is captured into an actualized work of art. Looking upon them, vision sees vision.

Under dim lighting, the gallery room simulates a universal theater, where various media coexist to form a bel composto (beautiful assemblage) of many arts – the electronic “viral symphOny,” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas, video animations, and a projection. Nonetheless, the mixed-media unity is a mind-boggling one, a mixture of mystery and indecency, just like the “permanent happening” on the altar stage of the Cornaro chapel. That is, Bernini’s marble sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” where St. Teresa is portrayed as a young woman in tunic at the height of her spiritual transport. As she recalled in her autobiography, she experienced both physically and spiritually an intense sweet pain that caused her to moan, when all her entrails were penetrated and drawn out by a golden arrow during a gravity-free levitation. 

Somehow reminiscent of that, the close-ups of human anus or retina are nomadically linked to the black holes or wormholes, through which an imaginative cosmological teleportation takes place. In that silent flight of noise, bodies are pulverized into weightless dusts, becoming a homogeneous whole with the boundless unknown and the inexperienceable, reaching the ultimate ecstasy. Moreover, in the light of his own theory, the typical strategy of Nechvatal’s art works is to invoke “an infliction of a pleasant frustration that can lead to creative visualization,” [2] which can also be observed from the audience’s reaction.

Unlike his previous style that is characterized by overlapping two incompossible strata of the actual and the virtual, this time, the actual human retina, anus, or cosmological singularities, are progressively weaved into the fabric of the virtual noise, resulting in an emergent “viractual” (a term coined by the artist). It is a pleasure to see how these strands of virtual particles move on to unfold the magic tapestries that depict the moment of creation. However, they diverge quickly, lose their way in the labyrinth of the black chaosmos, and have only a brief existence from the undifferentiated black, back to black. Perhaps, all this echoes with what Francois Laurelle says, “(t)he World is the endless confusion of man and Universe.” [3]  Given the expansive, ecstatic, non-hierarchical impression of the work, the unity of the microscopic and the macroscopic culminates in one’s mindscape as that of the infinitely small (infinitesimal) and the infinitely large, reflecting essentially the Leibnizian fractal view of the infinite. 


[1] Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993): p. 87.

[2] Nechvatal, Joseph, Immersion Into Noise, Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press in conjunction with the University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office, 2011, p 212.

[3] Laruelle, François. Of Black Universe in the Human Foundations of Color. The original French essay, titled “Du noir univers: dans les fondations humaines de la couleur,” was published in La Décision philosophique 5 (April 1988): 107-112. The English edition of this essay was first translated and published by Miguel Abreu as “Of Black Universe in the Human Foundations of Color” in the catalogue Hyun Soo Choi: Seven Large-Scale Paintings (New York: Thread Waxing Space, 1991): 2-4. 

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